Asking Youth Ministry Questions

On Sunday I'm gathering with members of my congregation to talk about the future of youth ministry here.  We currently have a vibrant Confirmation Class that meets on Sunday mornings, and a group of 15 youth and 5 adults just returned all pumped up from a weekend youth gathering sponsored by the synod.  We currently don't have much programming for youth outside of the Sunday morning experience, but I expect that to change . . .

Our conversation this Sunday will be made up mostly of adults, as the youth will be in Confirmation Class that morning.  We'll hear from the youth, and other adults, in future meetings.  After asking people to share their own experiences of youth ministry – as a youth, as a parent, as a volunteer here or at other congregations – I'll go through a few simple questions to guide our conversation:
  • Why have a youth ministry?  
  • What shall we offer/do in our youth ministry?
  • What assumptions about our youth do we bring to this ministry?
  • What assumptions about our adults do we bring to this ministry? 
  • What do we expect to occur in the lives of our young people through this ministry?
  • What do we expect to occur in the life of this congregation through this ministry?

(These questions are based on questions posed by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson in an excellent letter to pastors on the ministry of preaching.)

I think it is important to have this conversation about youth ministry intergenerationally, to bring lots of voices to the table.  Youth ministry is congregational ministry, not a segregated ministry apart from the wider church.  Age-specific programming is important, but if youth ministry doesn't seek to be part of the broader church, and if the broader church doesn't seek to be part of the youth ministry, then it is doomed to be a ghetto of youth and youth workers distinct from the church's central ministry of Word and Sacrament.

My philosophy on youth ministry is clearly shaped by my experience as a youth in the church: I was raised in a church with three youth.  We didn't have youth programming, so I did "adult" things in the church.  During high school, I was the only bass singing in my church choir for three years.  I counted the offerings, and served as lector, assisting minister, and cantor.  Simply put, I was part of the church's leadership, just like many of the adults in the church.

Surely I want my church kids to be part of a vibrant youth ministry, sharing life and faith with their peers and not just with their elders.  But I get worried about the age segregation that happens when youth are banished to youth rooms with crappy furniture and called on to lead worship only once per year in a special "Youth Sunday."  In fact, I have lots of feelings about Youth Sundays – ranging from the ambivalent to the negative – but that will be the stuff of a future post.

More thoughts on youth ministry in the coming weeks.

Peace to you.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

3 thoughts on “Asking Youth Ministry Questions

  1. I taught the little little kids’ Sunday School class last week, and we took a field trip from that room to the sanctuary to look for crosses and talk about crosses. They were *convinced* we were going to color a cross (we made one with foam…not too much better, but something different!)
    I think that this is so important, and we need to start thinking more broadly about it on every level.
    For example, I generally teach the SS class for middle/high school kids, who are already involved in school-related activities, figuring out who they are, etc. The typical “youth group”/confirmation class kids that we’re talking about here. But the fact of the matter is that they don’t really know each other, or me, too well, and at this point they don’t care to. They’ve got their friends, they’ve got their lives, and this is (like you said) a Sunday morning thing.
    Now another part of that is that there’s only 6 of them (ish), so it’s a small group.
    But we need to start the sort of youth ministry you’re talking about EARLY. We can’t just develop programming for teenagers with no social/emotional connection to the church or the church community and expect them to alter the lives they’re building to accommodate us and our ideas.
    And the segregation sucks, yes, but to some extent the teenagers in particular need a place that’s for them, I think. A sanctuary of their own that is specifically theirs. Bridging the gap between that place and the “adult community” is where I believe we need to focus their efforts. They don’t feel or act like adults yet, and they’re incredibly aware of that. That’s why we NEED youth ministry, and that’s why we can’t get too concerned about the segregation.
    Okay, too much thought, too little a comment space. Lots of ideas here with very little comment on them all, I hope you understood me at least a bit!

  2. Rachel,
    Yes, good points. I’m not calling for an abandonment of all age-specific ministries . . . but if that’s all youth ministry is then we’ve failed. I’ve been part of youth ministries that have nary ventured past their shag carpeted, old couch, poorly-painted rooms to see the rest of the church, community, world. And that ain’t good.

  3. I understand what you mean. I think that it’s a larger problem, though, that involves the whole church’s mission–if we can’t reach our own kids, how do we reach out to strangers?

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